Friday, August 28, 2020

The tool is tainted. . .

As schools figure out what to do, it appears that everywhere online instruction is the primary or only back plan (and for some is already the only plan) for educating our children.  It is sort of like those who did not feel the pinch of not gathering for worship because they believe technology and virtual gatherings are a fit and even equal substitute for the assembly of the faithful.  We are so wedded to our screens and our technology that we presume these are always an equal and fit substitute for the things that once required physical presence.  From churches to schools, we are, it would seem, relatively resigned or impressed with what happens via our virtual connections.  But I am not so sure.

I fear the very tool we use for these digital equivalents is a tainted one, so married to other pursuits that it does not move seamlessly into an instructive and worshipful usage.  After all, the screens on which we pin our hopes for education and worship are not primarily or even secondarily associated with or used for these purposes.  So the tool on which we are resting the educational future of our children and the future of religious life is not simply the same screen on which our children and families play video games, share photos, watch shows, check Instagram, send text messages, order food, get directions, and tweet.  No, it is used exclusively for these.  At least until COVID 19.

We expect our children to understand the difference.  We are pinning their future on their ability to distinguish the screen on which they study, read, write, watch educational films, communicate with their teachers, do homework, take tests, and everything else associated with their school work from their use of screens for pleasure, entertainment, social media, and as a distraction from boredom.  Is this realistic?  And is it realistic for the families to do exactly the same thing in distinguishing their screen usage for worship from its usage for everything else?

Our parish has a Vimeo account and has used Facebook throughout the pandemic and still.  But we saw the soft underbelly of such dependence upon technology.  The folks accustomed to fast forwarding, skipping parts, and moving on to something else are doing exactly the same things when they watch the Divine Service.  Only about 1 in 4 actually watch it through to the end.  If this happens in the religious usage of technology, how do we expect our students not to do the same things when it comes to the online education which is either the only back up or already the exclusive method of educating them?

Folks sitting in church for the Divine Service surely have wandering minds and are distracted but they cannot fast forward or skip parts and they have the pulse of the liturgy and the live voice from the pulpit pulling them back from their isolation.  Children sitting in classrooms are distracted in the same way by a thousand things but they have the setting around them and the voice of their teacher constantly pulling them back to what is happening around them.  Technology offers nothing of this and is at the beck and call of the person on the mouse, keyboard, and screen. 

Further, education has become less the imparting of information and knowledge but the deference to the student not only to decide what he or she thinks of this but what they believe is true, relevant, and valuable to them AND they are put in the positions of being the interpreter of all the information.  This is a position for which children are accustomed when it comes to play, pleasure, and communication but not when it comes to facts of history, the rules of grammar, the means of solving mathematical problems, or the discovery of information in areas from biology to civics.  Yet we have thrust them into that drivers' seat and pinned our hopes on their success at learning via technology the way they learn in the classroom.  In the same way, we have taken people out of the Divine Service and placed them into roles where they direct, define, and decide what is true, relevant, and valuable to them as they watch the worship services of God's House.  In both cases they are not participants but spectators.  That is what makes the whole idea that online is a fit and equal substitute for in person settings so questionable.

Worse, we will not realize the damage done until a year or more has passed.  And churches remain empty and classrooms give way to a feed on their device.  God help us! 

2 comments:

John J. Flanagan said...

Your concerns are very real, and are happening now. Perhaps, given the dangers of this new technology to remain a double edged sword, we need to leave our devices alone more often, and take inventory of what the beast is doing to our spiritual life in Christ.

John J. Flanagan said...

Your concerns are very real, and are happening now. Perhaps, given the dangers of this new technology to remain a double edged sword, we need to leave our devices alone more often, and take inventory of what the beast is doing to our spiritual life in Christ.